Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 11:13 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 11:13 | SYDNEY

DFAT travel advice to Indonesia: Time to reconsider

29 May 2008 09:45

Guest blogger: Mitch O'Dwyer interned at the Lowy Institute in 2006 and has just returned from a few months living in Indonesia

The prime minister is scheduled to make his first official visit to Jakarta next month, and while Mr Rudd will undoubtedly be looking to continue Australia’s cooperation with Indonesia on a range of issues from security to climate change, another matter of much lower profile but more immediate consequence to the Republic of Indonesia has emerged.

At least one Australian media outlet has suggested that in light of a recent US State Department decision to lift its own travel warning for Indonesia, Mr Rudd may direct the foreign minister and his department to similarly downgrade Australia’s travel advice.

Yesterday, at parliament house, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute launched a paper entitled 'Seeing Indonesia as a normal country: implications for Australia'. Among other things, the report describes Indonesia as a 'stable, competitive democracy...[that is] no longer in a state of profound flux and turmoil'. Such an assessment is conspicuous in its optimism. (Interestingly, in his remarks at the launch of the report, foreign minister Stephen Smith made several references to the importance of developing 'people-to-people' ties between Australian and Indonesia, and acknowledged the 'need to intensify exchanges between Australians and Indonesians').

While any decision on DFAT’s travel advice must always be based on a clear and objective assessment of the facts rather than political expediency, a compelling case can be made for a re-assessment. Successive Australian governments have emphasised the importance of Indonesia’s continued development to our national interest, and a significant component of this development can be directly attributed to its continued engagement with its neighbours. It follows that Australian businesspeople, teachers, tourists and students have a lot to offer Indonesia’s economic and social development. Quite understandably, the Indonesian government is keen to get them there, however, the current travel advice acts as a significant deterrent for any potential Australian visitor.

Current DFAT travel advice (which has remained unchanged since the Bali bombings of 2002) suggests that if you are an Australian contemplating a trip to Indonesia, you should 'reconsider your need to travel', the second highest level of warning behind 'do not travel'. I wonder if such advice isn’t a little over-stated, particularly given the recent advances Indonesian authorities have made in combating domestic terrorism. (To give you a bit of an idea, comparable travel warnings apply to Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all countries which are currently experiencing significant civil unrest, and are arguably far less stable than Indonesia).

Visiting anywhere in the developing world always carries with it certain dangers, and the government is right to counsel Australians travelling to Indonesia to show caution, but do they really need to reconsider their need to travel?